March 05, 2014

To Pop-up shop or not?

Should you do a pop-up shop?

Are you an online-only retailer? Want to grow your customer base? Or engage in-person?

A pop-up shop might be the answer to your lack of direct face to face connection with customers.

What is a pop-up shop?

A pop-up shop is a temporary bricks and mortar retail location. Physical retail. Pop-up shops could be held in a vacant storefront, at a specific location like an event or show, or within an existing store. Some cities even promote pop-up programs to fill vacant storefronts in gentrifying areas. Pop-up shops are generally temporary by nature.

The majority of pop-up events last a few hours to a day, however some will span a weekend or a month. They have gained popularity over the past few years due to the influx and growth of e-commerce.
E-commerce retailers cannot deny that within certain categories, in-store sales still rule.

An example of this is clothing or shoes, where more than 60% of purchases still occur in store due mainly to concerns from consumers around fit.
Pop-up shops are an opportunity for traditionally online brands to engage with consumers in person.

The Good
  • Direct connection with customers - ability to talk and sell
  • Opportunity to gain real-time feedback on products - test new products
  • Capture content (photos, videos) of customers interacting with your products - blog posts!
  • Create buzz and generate press opportunities - invite press and bloggers
  • Grow brand awareness - instant credibility
The Challenges
  • Generating traffic - how will people know about your pop-up shop?
  • Location - securing a good one
  • Selecting type of pop-up shop (freestanding, store in store, event based)
  • Costs - depending on event can be an investment
  • Unpredictability - many elements out of your control, I.e. Weather.

What else to consider when popping up?

Pop-up shops can be risky because of how unpredictable the traffic can be.
I've experienced this with my own fashion label. I've been to pop-ups where 20 people have showed up and I've sold nothing, but I've also been to pop-ups where 200 people show and I sell thousands. And then, the next year don't even break even. Unpredictable. (And sometimes a tad demoralizing!)

If you are a relatively new brand, generating interest in your pop-up will be difficult, especially in large urban markets. You will be competing with many other activities on a weekend or evening. If you make an investment in a space or pay a fee, you may not get it back if you don't get (a) Traffic, or (b) the RIGHT kind of traffic (I.e. Traffic that converts!).

My best advice to a newer brand is to look into teaming up either with a complementary brand with an existing following/large audience. Ideally, this brand should be non-competitive and aligned with your values. They should also share similar target customer profiles.

As an alternative, targeting a few local retailers with solid customer bases is a great option. Partnering with a bricks and mortar retailer is a good opportunity to test market your products in their store with relatively low risk. You could offer to take on their least busiest night in the week and host a pop-up. Engage them in marketing the event. Perhaps, even offer them a % of the sales to host the pop-up shop. Making anything performance based often cultivates the right type of behaviour!

Be engaging. If you are hosting a pop-up shop. Give people a reason to come other than 50% off. Invite a famous local blogger or nail artist. Offer free intuitive readings. Whatever it is that you think will draw in your ideal customer.

Don't forget if you ARE popping up to promote it like crazy.  Put posts up all over your social media networks and email newsletters. Even on your own website. Contact local newspapers and online magazines - many of them have options to submit "Community events" for FREE.

Lastly, know your costs and measure pre/post. Ideally before signing up for an event, you should know your break-even point. Meaning, how much product you need to sell to cover your costs. As a new brand, it's easy for us to make excuses and say events are good "brand exposure" when they aren't generating sales.

However, in a cash flow reliant business such as retail, we still need to keep a close eye on actual cash in and cash out. Do a simple break-even calculation - include all costs to operate the event, and divide this by your contribution margin to come up with your actual revenue needed to break-even. After the event, tally up how you did. New brands do need to test different opportunities to see what works so don't let one bad pop-up discourage you from ever doing one again!

A superb pop-up resource:  The Storefront Blog 


Tell us, have you done a pop-up shop or trade show?

What lessons do you have to share with others?

Leave a comment below!

Happy selling!

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